I keep wondering what to write for my first blog post of this year. I told myself that I would have a gentle, kind easing into 2018, because this time last year wasn’t so good. January is the time when people give things up, or start new goals, are extremely gung-ho about the changes they’re making. I simply slipped into this year with the changes I had made last year – with just a few tweaks. That isn’t to say that I don’t have big goals and big changes I want to make this year, as usual. Yet the changes I made last year were small and have given me the confidence to continue this year. I believe that small, actionable changes are the key to achieving a larger goal.
Change your behaviours, step by step, as opposed to just leaping right in and doing it all at once. It’s fine if you’re the kind of person that can do that, and actually stick to it – that’s amazing. Yet most of us need baby steps. In previous posts I’ve mentioned that my husband Dan (at Stray Dog Strut) went vegan in September last year. This meant that we both ate vegan dinners together, and I slowly started to aim for a mainly vegetarian diet. Earlier in the year, I had given up milk because I’d become lactose-intolerant over the past few years, even to the point that lacto-free milk wasn’t even cutting it, so I switched to nut milks and oat milk. I allowed myself to still eat some dairy like cheese, which doesn’t have any ill-effects (particularly goats cheese), and sometimes I would have the occasional piece of cake or milk chocolate, but my day to day consumption was dairy-free.
After a while, I started thinking about my values, and whether what I ate aligned with them. For years, I’ve toyed with the idea of becoming meat-free, because I’ve been uncomfortable with thinking that I’m eating another sentient creature. I stopped eating red meat, for a start. It wasn’t that difficult because red meat is expensive, and seeing that Dan was vegan, I was mostly avoiding meat anyway, apart from a little poultry and fish. I also wanted to have a last Christmas that wasn’t meat-free, so I chose this year’s festivities as my last hurrah, so to speak. Since I’ve been cooking vegan and vegetarian food for the past four months, I’ve become much more aware of how to use flavour, spice, herbs, condiments, and different kinds of vegetables to flavour food. It’s been easy to find certain dishes that I love – red thai curry, a fish-free puttanesca pasta dish (with plenty of black olives and capers), sweet potato stew, a delicious chickpea and cashew nut curry – and I’m actually more experimental and diverse with what I cook now that Dan is vegan. It can be more labour-intensive so we’re trying to batch-cook a little more often, but most of the time, once I get to know a recipe well, it’s not so difficult to muster the energy and get it done.
I digress: what I really wanted to say is that I’ve become a full-time pescatarian (vegetarian with some fish), having quietly made that natural transition from the 1st January. We went to see the Kew Gardens lights with my aunt that evening and I had a halloumi and mushroom burger, my first vegetarian meal of the year. I feel happier because I’m aligning more with my deep-held values. I know that it would be better to give up fish too, because of the problems of overfishing and the strain on our oceans, but I also have PCOS and I need an easy source of Omega-3 from oily fish. Regardless, I’m unlikely to eat fish that often anyway. Talking of the PCOS, that’s another reason I’ve decided to make the change – because I eat far more fruit, vegetables, wholegrains, and plant protein when I’m eating vegetarian and vegan food. I make more conscious choices to avoid sugar, and white carbohydrates. I feel good about my choice because I feel better already – I’m less tired and achy, and have more energy (PCOS can cause inflammation, tiredness, anxiety and depression amongst many other symptoms).
There are a lot of difficult habits I still have that I’m trying to work on and unravel. Not least my sleep patterns, which are sketchy and have been for a long time. So I know it will take me some time to replace those habits with new ones, but if anything, I feel more confident that I will eventually get to a place where I feel better, emotionally, mentally, and physically. I believe that we shouldn’t feel bad about the things that we find hard to change, because that’s just human. We all struggle with one thing or another. Getting to this point has been a process of working out what matters to me, and how I want to feel – and the extreme challenges we faced as a family last year clarified a lot of things. I found strength and courage that I didn’t know I had, in moments that felt like the world was ending. I know that a lot of people also had a terrible year, and I think we all deserve kindness and amazing things in the year to come.
Those small changes have fuelled the bigger things to come. I’m almost finished with my first draft of Fragments – just a few more essays to write then I’ll have a glass of something (and maybe some cake!) to celebrate and print out a copy to start the first round of edits. It will be published this year. I’m not quite sure when – I’ve learnt not to make any promises – but I have a feeling it will be ready to go by the summer at the very latest. I also have a number of possible projects that could lead to more published work this year. This year finally feels like momentum is building, even though it’s only been two weeks since the start. Maybe because I’ve tried not to rush, easing myself into work and change, which feels kinder and less stressful. I hope that whatever you want for this year – changes or no – comes to fruition, and wish you plenty of magic, good books, time with friends and family, and wisdom gained.
‘Have you ever seen the dawn? Not a dawn groggy with lack of sleep or hectic with mindless obligations and you about to rush off on an early adventure or business, but full of deep silence and absolute clarity of perception? A dawning which you truly observe, degree by degree. It is the most amazing moment of birth. And more than anything it can spur you to action. Have a burning day.’ – Vera Nazarian.